· · · ·

How to choose fabric for a quilt – Being Thoughtful about your choices + 3 methods for choosing + a freebie worksheet

Hey, Lovelies!

Today I wanted to talk about my personal favorite part of making a quilt:  choosing fabric.  Yah!  Are you excited?

Fabric combinations are subjective.  I may just be enamored with something that you don’t find pleasing to the eye whatsoever or vice versa.  I may hate a particular color combination, and you may love it.  To each her own.  BUT have you ever made a quilt and you are frustrated with the fabrics you chose or maybe it’s the fabric combination that you came up with.  In my early days of quilting, I did this ALL.  THE.  TIME.  Naturally, I would just be so fed up with myself (insert face palm right here).

Why did I put that loud brown polka dot in with all those pale florals?  Why did I choose a larger print for such a small patchwork piece?

Over time, I’ve come to understand exactly what it is that I like, plus a few guidelines that I like to try and choose fabrics by.  I don’t by ANY means consider myself an expert on putting together fabrics.  I’ve been quilting since 2008 and have learned by trial and error.  I don’t use color theories, although I’ve taken many classes on that subject (like this one, or this one, very recently this one, and finally this one that I really liked), but for me I tend to know what I like and rarely consult a color wheel.  Even if I don’t use the exact methods in those classes, I still found something valuable about each class and I’d definitely recommend them.

As all things in quilting, there are countless ways to achieve the exact same result.  Today, I’ll be showing you MY way.

If you make it to the very bottom of this post there is a free Thoughtful Fabric Choices Worksheet that you can download.


Take This Class


Anna Maria Horner is a master with color. In this class, she shows you how to switch up traditional color conventions in order to develop your own stunning palettes. Beginning with a traditional color wheel, Anna demonstrates how each color interacts with one another depending on its position in the wheel. Then, using paint chips, she walks you through a color swap exercise where you will learn how to mix and match hues. Anna explains how to apply this information to printed fabrics, demonstrating how scale and proportion can be used to create new and interesting patchwork combinations. This class is ideal for anyone who wants to understand how to work intuitively with color and print.

Learn how to:
  • Understand a color wheel and categorize color
  • Translate color into printed fabric
  • Work with color to create palettes
  • Build a personal color palette
  • Work with color to create dynamic compositions in patchwork

What you’ll get:

  • Learn how to understand how to work intuitively with color and print by creating an interesting patchwork combinations
  • 5 HD video lessons you can access online anytime, anywhere
  • Detailed supplies list
  • Step-by-step expert instruction from designer Anna Maria Horner
  • The ability to leave comments, ask questions, and interact with other students



Quick notes for being more thoughtful about your fabric choices


***I don’t usually use a single fabric collection in a quilt.  I do this on occasion, but most of the time, if I have free rein over my projects, my quilts are almost always scrappy.  Many quilt makers find using their scraps difficult.  If you are one of these quilt makers, you are not alone.  Buying a fabric collection with ten prints that are all made to be together is soooooo easy to do.  Hello, it was created by a talented designer, maybe even with a little art school in their past.  They know what they are doing (most of the time).

But if you plan on using all of your stash or at least using up your scraps, you are eventually going to have to mix fabrics.  You WANT to do this.  It makes things much more interesting to the quilt maker and much more interesting to the rest of us.

***The more you mix fabric the better you will get at it.  Keep trying.


***Think about contrast (though you don’t always have to).  If I’m making a quilt full of stars, and I use pale fabrics for my stars and pale fabric for my background.  After your quilt is complete, you might not be able to see the star design.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made this mistake.  I still do this.  If that is what you want, then go for it.  If it’s not what you want, then start thinking about how that fabric contrasts to your background fabric.

I’m digging through my scrap baskets and pulling fabrics out and a few slip in that won’t give much contrast and I don’t notice it until all the blocks are made and I’m looking at a complete quilt top (insert big sigh).  We’ve all been there.  Take your time.  Make your choices thoughtfully.

On the flip side of this, sometimes a complete low volume quilt just somehow works.  I feel like it really depends on the design though.

***The size of your print is also something to think about.  If you are cutting up 2.5″ squares and using a very large print.  That fabric may end up unrecognizable in the finished quilt.  I like to save my large prints for large fabric cuts, fussy cutting, or for the back of your quilt.  There are times when using a large print in a small square is completely do-able, but most of the time I’m just disappointed with what I’ve done or even roll my eyes at myself a thousand times (do you do this too?).

***I find it always important for every single print in your quilt to not be the same level of busy.  First a confession:  I like busy.  I really do!  (See this pinterest board here to reflect my love of busy decor tastes) But sometimes too much busy will ruin a nice quilt block.

For example, let’s take a 9-patch block, typically made with two different fabrics.  If both those prints are multi colored or have lots of design and very little eye resting space, you can’t tell that it’s a nine patch.  For this reason, I like to include a fair amount of tonals in my fabric choices.  Just in case you don’t know what a tonal is:  a tonal is a fabric with usually the same color used more than once, like pink triangles on a pink background.  Here’s one for example.  Another example of a tonal would be a fabric with a tiny design with lots of background space, like this one.

***Don’t be all matchy matchy.  Instead of using 5 fabrics all with the exact same shade of green, try using 5 fabrics with varying shades of green.  It’s much more interesting.

***Building a good stash is important to choose good fabrics for your quilt.  Unless you are somebody who goes and buys specific fabrics for a specific quilt, this tip will apply to you.  I usually just buy fabrics I like/want/need and then stash them.  When I go to make a quilt, I go to my stash and get what I need.

If my stash only consists of all large gorgeous florals, guess what?  Yep!  It’s going to be too much busy!  How will I have the right fabric to show off the design of my quilt block.  Try to build (over time) a well rounded stash.  Although, I will confess that my drawer of my brown fabrics NEVER gets opened.  🙁

***Sometimes throwing in a dark color makes everything look better.  The correct term for it, I believe is ‘grounding’.  Throwing in small amount of black in a colorful quilt will make you clap your hands.  See this quilt for example.

***Another something to think about is what fabric you are actually buying.  Are you buying the trendiest fabric that everyone else is using?  Has it sat in your stash for two years?  Maybe that’s not fabric you like.  Maybe you find it difficult to use.  Don’t just buy a whole collection because you can.  Choose the prints from that collection that you like and know you will use.  FYI:  I don’t buy fabric that has tractors on it for my stash.  If I’m making a quilt for a tractor enthusiasts, then maybe, but not just because it’s part of the collection. ( <—–that’s an extreme example for you )

Take a look at your favorite quilt, whether it be something you made or someone else made.  What is that you actually like about the fabrics being used?  Make a note of them and use this information when you are shopping for fabric.

Support a small shop

2 Minutes 2 Stitch is a great shop!  Not only do they offer tons of beautiful fabric, there is also a massive sale section.  Plus, if bag making is your thing, lots of hardware and patterns are available here too.


Choosing Fabric – Method #1 – Starting with a focal point fabric


Here’s how this one works:

You choose one fabric. I’ve chosen the one in the middle of the picture above called Acqua di Rose by AGF,   Pretty, right?  Usually your focal print would be multi colored.  This way you can draw from the colors in your focal print and use them to choose your other fabrics.

My focal print above has navy, turquoise, pinks, yellow greens, a bit of orange.  I’ve added fabrics based on those colors.  I’ve also chosen smaller print fabrics, some tonals, some low volume for contrast.  The only other busy print I’ve included besides my focal is the blue/green floral at the bottom and it’s so small, I say it works.  I wish I’d added a little pink too.

The longer you sit and look at something the more the combination will speak to you.  So again, I say take your time, snap a picture, and stare.  I mean you are gazing at fabric, right?  Do you have something better to do?  I certainly don’t.  Fabric gazing it is then!  Feel free to pet them as well.  🙂


Product Spotlight

 Love to quilt? Love to color? This is the artistic activity book you’ve been looking for! Hours of creative pleasure await as you explore 45 quilt coloring projects plus a bonus table-runner created from one-of-a-kind designs featured in popular Martingale quilting books.

Want to sew a quilt based on the design you colored? Information about each quilt, its designer, and the book it was published in appear on the coloring pages. You can even go online and see a full color photo of the finished quilt.

Purchase here.



Choosing Fabric – Method #2 – Starting with a color palette


This is a method that I use most of the time.  I like this method.  If I see that my blue scrap box or stash drawer are out of control, then it’s time to come up with a color palette for blue so that I can use those fabrics.

Sometimes I’ll see a picture of a color palette or a photograph and KNOW that I have to make a quilt in those colors.  For this reason, I like to keep this pinterest board of fabric combinations that I like.  This makes things so easy it’s almost cheating.  An expert or even nature has decided the color palette.  I need only go find the fabrics that fit.

While I’m choosing fabrics based on the color palette I’ve chosen, I still want to think about the things I listed above about making thoughtful choices such as: contrast, size of print, and making sure I have enough tonals.


I’ve created a board so that you can see a fabric combination based on a picture.  The picture is on the board as well to show you my color palette.

Finding fabric shops that offer color grids are extremely helpful for this.  Hawthorne Threads has a color grid, and you can click on a color and it will pull up every fabric they offer in varying shades of that color.  I use it all the time!

Making boards of fabric on Pinterest is also something I use all the time.  This way you can see all your fabrics together if you haven’t purchased them yet.  If you are using your stash, you can do this the same way just lay your fabrics out on a white background.  It’s helpful to stash your fabrics by color so you can just pull from the colors you need.


Choosing Fabric – Method #3 – Starting with a designer or a collection of fabrics


This method is the easiest of all methods.  And it’s especially nice if you are brand new to choosing fabrics.

Maybe you purchased a bundle of fat quarters.  It’s nowhere near enough fabrics to make the quilt you are wanting, but it’s definitely a good start.  Keep those fabrics together and now rummage through your stash and find fabrics that look like they’ll fit together with your fat quarter bundle.

Lay out your fabrics on a neutral background in folded squares.  Pull fabrics from your stash and set them with the fat quarter bundle.  Change the fabrics in and out until your eyes are happy with the result.  Ask yourself questions.  Is there contrast?  Are the prints the size I need?  Do you have varying degrees of busyness and tonals?  The important part is just to think about it a little more mindfully.  Take your time, notice everything.

The fabric collection in the pic above is Maureen Cracknell’s Garden Dreamer.  If I was going to add to this fabric collection for a quilt, I would definitely add some more of that wine colored on the fabric in the most front of my picture.  I’d add a heck of a lot more low volume because it’s my thing and I know my tastes.  I’d also add maybe a busy print because there’s a lot of space in these fabrics, so I feel there is room for more busy.  Maybe I’d even add another shade of blue between the dark and medium one.

If you decide you are going to add a whole new color to the mix, be sure to add it twice.  For example, there is that wine color and I think a little pale pink could look nice with this fabric collection.  If I decided to add this fabric, I might also add this one.  This way the pink is not completely out of thin air.  Or I’d look for a fabric that had both the light shade of pink with maybe one of the other colors in the is palette, like one of the blues.

You made it to the end of this giant post?  Clap your hands!  Longest post to date!

I’ve made a worksheet for you to download and you could even print it off.  It has a few questions to ask yourself while choose fabrics (all that we covered today), plus a little quick start guide for you to reference when you need to.  Download the PDF here.

Do you have other methods?  Or have you benefited from a method I mentioned above.  I’d love it if you left a comment.  It could help others that are new to choosing fabrics.


Similar Posts


  1. Great post Melanie! I’ve actually used all 3 methods. I come from a painting background, even though I’m new to quilting. One of my favorite things with painting is using a journal where I page through magazines and cut out the pages where I love the overall color palette. Then I paste it into my journal and on the opposite page I go through my paints and put a swatch of those paints that I see in that color palette. When I’m starting a new painting and don’t have any idea, I open up my journal and pick one of my palettes. With quilting I’ve been relying on Pinterest.

  2. This was a great post. I’ve been making quilts for over 50 years and have learned most of this along the way. The thing I would add is to go ahead and try whatever. Some of us learn better by this method and somebody will love the quilt you make no matter what your plan is. Thanks for the Pinterest links. Sue

  3. Wonderful post! You quickly covered so many great points. loved the part about adding black making you clap your hands, haha! Yes it can.

  4. Fantastic post- so comprehensive! I have been quilting for a l.o.n.g time! One technique I learned way back when was to pick a border fabric (yes, quilts always had borders then!) and use that as your focus fabric. I still use that when I am starting a ‘controlled’ scrappy quilt. I’ve also used Design Seeds to find a colour palette I love and base my quilt on that. It’s fun diving into my stash to find all the fabrics that will play together.

  5. Usually I just start with 2 or 3 fabrics that speak to me and then I let them sit around in my sewing room for months (years even) as I continue to add to the pile until it’s enough fabric for a certain project I have in mind. I rarely stick with one designer except when it’s denyse. Although I’m going to attempt an Alison Glass quilt someday. I’ve been quilting about the same amount of time as you and can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve made, but all those mistakes have made me pretty confident as time has gone on and I’ve gotten better. I do think it’s nice to stick with collections as a beginner but some people never seem to branch out, and that’s okay, but for people who want to do it “their way,” they just need to practice, practice, practice and know that even experts make duds from time to time!

  6. I am planning to start quilting and choosing fabric is very important, so I am glad that I found this article. You make a great point that you should start with a color palette and use that to choose different fabrics and even size of print and design. Also, I will make sure that if I want to add a new color I will add it at least twice to the quilt. I am excited to make this quilt for my granddaughter. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Thank you for pointing out that the easiest method of choosing the fabric is to start out with a designer or collection of fabrics. My grandmother is wanting to make me a quilt and I need to choose the fabrics for it. I’ll have to look into getting some swatch cards to help me make the decision. http://bredemeier.com/products/swatch-cards/

  8. I like that you mentioned how finding fabric stores that offer color grids. This can help you mix and match your quilts perfectly. My wife loves to do this, and we are going to need a good shop when we move.

  9. I wanted to thank you for this advice for picking fabric for a quilt. You mentioned that you should try to think how the fabric can contract with the background fabric. I’m interested to learn if you should do a few tests just to see how the fabric compliments each other.

Leave a Reply